Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

Preparing “Day-One Ready” Teachers

By Elizabeth Long, English Language Arts Teacher, Gallup Middle School

Teacher quality is fundamental to improving public education.  If not one of the most important factors to school success, then what is?  There is a lot of talk about how to improve schools—and improving instruction should be at the top of the list.

And the effect of quality teachers is greatest among students with the most educational disadvantages (Goldhaber, 2016, p. 58). It is no secret that quality teachers matter and can change the course of our students’ lives. Still, for far too many teachers, those that can change lives, leave the profession after just a first few years of teaching.

I wanted to be a teacher since I was in first grade, and while that may sound cliché’, it often takes an entire lifetime to prepare a person to be an effective teacher. Even the best teacher prep programs cannot adequately prepare a teacher for everything that they will experience in the classroom. Still, teachers need to come to the classroom “Day One Ready”, and that goes beyond just knowing how to lesson plan or memorize learning theories.

Teacher preparation programs have a solemn responsibility to produce quality teachers.

After my first year of teaching, I was ready to give up on the dream I had since I was a little girl. It was devastating. I was not adequately prepared for my first year of teaching, and while I am sure many factors can be taken into account when it comes to my lack of preparedness that first year in the classroom, I was not prepared well through my college teacher prep program.

Luckily, I chose to stay in the classroom and use resources within my school to push myself to my full potential (I earned an Exemplary rating this year as a teacher in Gallup, New Mexico). Unfortunately, not every teacher has access to the resources I had or the resolve to keep pushing internally.  And that is how we lose potentially life-changing teachers.

However, if teacher preparation programs dramatically improve in New Mexico, then the quality of teaching, and thus education, across the state will improve.

The purpose of my writing this is not to demonize or condemn any specific college or university. As a teacher, I believe a large part of learning is in our own hands.  We must accept personal responsibility for our craft, and for our students’ learning.  In fact, the summer after my first (rough) year of teaching, I went back to the basics. I ordered Harry Wong’s classic books about classroom management, and I read his words as if they were scripture.

One may ask, didn’t I do the same in my teacher prep program? The answer is sort of, yes – I read many of the famous teaching texts and theories, but what was often missing was the application of those theories. Without a classroom of my own, or a classroom to visualize myself in it was hard to imagine how to put these theories into action. For example, I took a special education course about foundational theories, but I never actually learned what special education would look like in a real school or a real classroom. What I was learning in my classes were the idealistic theories for teaching, and when it was time for my student teaching experience it seemed as though what I had learned had no basis in reality.

The best classes I had were with teachers who were passionate about the teaching practice and not completely disconnected from the classroom experience itself. It is not that I did not have some great courses or professors along the way, but the problem is often cohesion and consistency, and my classes were, to be honest, hit or miss.

I was also shocked by how inadequately I was prepared for the student diversity I would experience. Many universities give a “cookie-cutter” view on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) and culturally relevant teaching. There was no connection to New Mexico and our students. According to Gist, “If teachers have limited knowledge of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, this can severely reduce the teacher’s ability to draw upon a student’s cultural and linguistic strengths and foster resilient student identities of achievement”. New Mexico and our students have unique needs, and these must be addressed in teacher prep programs, and we need to address diversity while never lowering he bar for any student, regardless of background.

Another frustrating experience is that I often felt like I was given misleading information about licensure, advisement, and what steps I needed to take to ensure I received my licensure after graduation with the proper credentials. Any preparation program requires quality advisement, and teachers need advisors who know their state’s expectations on testing and certification.

I have mentored many teachers over the years, and I have seen many come and go. I would say that, in my experience, teacher preparation program experiences directly correlate with whether teachers stay in the profession or quit after their first year.  As we all know, there are some tough issues in education today, and teaching is not a laid-back job in any way.

Still, if teachers come into the classroom “Day One Ready”, their entire outlook on teaching may change…but what does “Day One Ready” even mean?

“Day One Ready” means that a teacher is not surprised, but prepared for what they walk into that first day in the classroom. It is not about creating perfect teachers, but rather, teachers that will be prepared for the highlights and challenges of teaching our students, with proper support along the way. “Day One Ready” teachers are confident that the experiences in their teacher preparation program will realistically align with their true classroom experience. While nothing may prepare teachers for everything they will experience, quality programs prepare them to be more ready than I was.

Let us help prepare teachers realistically in high quality teacher preparation programs, which means that these programs should be held accountable, should increase their student teaching experiences, and should align their programs much more closely with state and district expectations. Then, we can help teachers reach their full potential and truly change the lives of students across the State. We know that, more than anything, teacher quality correlates with student success. So certainly teacher preparation is the foundation of that idea.

I am thankful I decided to keep teaching. Even with the most professionally challenging experiences, it is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.  And I have my students’ academic growth and their changed life trajectories to show for it!

However, if I could have been better trained and prepared to be more successful on Day One, then it should have happened. No excuses.

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